by Alma R. H. Reyes
- Japanese proverb
ASHES TO ASHES, DUST TO DUST
Apart from enjoying the reds and golds of the maple leaves in autumn as they wither gradually to a white and grey winter, we also remember November as the month of our departed loved ones. In Japan, this custom is practiced in August during the o-bon. They spend not just one day, but several days off from work to visit cemeteries and bond with their families. Of course, this not-so-cheerful occasion differs from the Filipino tradition primarily because of religion. During the wake and funeral ceremony in Japan, the Buddhist tradition uses a lot of chanting by the Buddhist priest, and people line up to light incense sticks by the altar, clap their hands, bow and say a prayer.
I have attended funeral ceremonies in Japan. The air is somber, serene, formal, probably a little bit stiff, and people wear very serious faces. Naturally, we expect the same atmosphere in the Filipino way, but somehow in our culture, even during such a sad occasion, we still see people smiling, some even sharing jokes, especially after the ceremony is over and everyone is ready to attack the food table. Cremation is a standard practice in Japan, and I also have experienced witnessing this, unfortunately. Yes, unfortunately, because I think that after the first time, I would not want to witness it again. Usually, the immediate family members are the only ones present during the cremation services. They wait directly outside the “oven” while the body is being cremated, giving off the sounds of burning, which can be quite a chilly experience. When the cremation is over, the bones appear on a tray, and pulled out of the oven chamber for the family members to see. And, here comes the gruesome part. The family is given chopsticks so two people can pick up one bone together, before it is laid inside the urn. An attendant is present to explain the body parts where the bones came from. There is even an order in picking up the bones, starting with the bones of the feet, and lastly the bones of the head, in the belief that the body will not be upside down inside the urn. This is the reason why it is considered taboo for two people to pick up food together, or pass food to each other with their chopsticks, as this reminds the Japanese of the dead.
It’s certainly quite a depressing thought to be thinking of death and funerals in Japan, especially for foreigners like us. But, as we grow older, and while in Japan, sometimes, we can’t help but think what happens if we get sick here, and die here, and there will be no one to take care of us? Naisip niyo na ba ito?
It’s not a joke to get sick in Japan. Yet, there are benefits because of the convenient health insurance here, which we cannot avail back home. Perso-nally, I do my medical check-ups back home, even if I know I will pay more, only because I feel more secure being attended to by our own doctors, especially if they are family doctors. I feel more settled understanding the consultations, and I can attest that Filipino doctors spend more time with their patients, thoroughly explaining the illness, medication, and other useful information that we cannot get from Japanese doctors who are often in hurry, being so conscious of other patients who are waiting in line. This is the main reason why I prefer to be attended by my Filipino doctors. Sometimes I feel like I am actually attending a lecture on medicine, as the doctors patiently explain every step and procedure, sometimes, even with complete charts and diagrams.
There are pros and cons about seeking medical help in Japan or the Philippines. I have known of incidents in Japan when, in times of emergency, the ambulance does not take you promptly to a hospital because not all hospitals can take the patient, depending on the gravity of the patient’s condition. There was one case of a Japanese mother who sued the medical association of Japan when her infant needed to be rushed to the hospital, but the ambulance took time to bring the infant to the hospital since there was no available hospital at that moment, and when the mother and her child arrived in the hospital, the baby was pronounced dead. Then, we all know, of course the usual routine here of having to cue for so long to see a doctor, only to be attended to in five minutes.
In the Philippines, the problem with our doctors is many of them are not punctual. I have a family doctor who starts his clinic hours at 9:00 a.m. but comes in at 9:45 a.m. In Manila, it is always convenient to say that all kinds of delay are due to traffic. We have hospitals that do not even have toilet paper in their toilets, or may lack advanced equipment, in contrast to the cleanliness and availability of amenities in Japanese hospitals. Some say that the hospital staff in Japan treats patients like “just one of those sick people” while the Filipino medical staff treats patients with more care and compassion.
One thing to contemplate on is when you get sick in Japan, who do you want to be with most by your side when you need emotional and moral support? I think this is an important factor to consider. Health stability is also about emotional and psychological stability. Make sure you get the right care from the right people when you need medical attention in Japan. And, as Christmas nears, let’s all try to stay healthy, then we can dream about all those cucinta, puto, sapin-sapin and other Christmas delight back home that we will surely miss!
Have a most heartfelt holiday!